In the last few years, women have played an active role in India’s entrepreneurial landscape, especially in the e-commerce arena. In fact, online retail in India has moved beyond traditional routes with people from smaller cities constituting a significant section of buyers and sellers, benefitting women sellers immensely. Here are a few homepreneurs who are making the best of online marketplaces to reach out to customers with niche offerings, from the comfort of their homes.
Mumbai-based illustrator Divya Bhatia, 29, started freelancing after quitting her job in a brand consultation and design boutique in 2016. An advertising graduate with a knack for sketching, Divya started taking classes from a private tutor. Initially she used to draw a water-colour cartoon and put it up on Instagram every day. “The cartoons depicted relatable situations and that is why I chose the name @youknowhertoo for my Instagram handle,” she says.
Divya chanced upon the idea of customized cartoon portraits when an Instagram follower sent her a photograph and requested her for a caricature based on it. “I would draw the caricatures and hand paint them, and soon started making wedding invitation, birthday and anniversary cards,” she says.
She gets clients through Instagram, many of them NRIs. A customized wedding invitation can cost anywhere between Rs 3,000 – Rs 7,000 based on the design. She also caters to the corporate gifting space.
“On special occasions, people want to gift things to their loved ones that can stay forever. Caricatures portraits are a great way to fill that gap,” she adds.
Divya uses digital drawing for customized stamps, stickers, magnets, memory books and cartoons. She also made a story book for children during Diwali last year, and sold them through Instagram.
Divya gets highest volume of orders during wedding seasons; she says the number of orders has been increasing by approximately 20-25% every year.
As children we have all had miniature eraser collections; Ahmedabad-based Shirali’s sculptures has made it possible for adults to revive the childhood penchant of collecting miniatures. Shirali, now 44, has been selling miniature sculptures made of polymer clay through her Etsy shop ‘Small Ideas’ since 2010.
Shirali, who was working as a buyer and merchandiser for Future Group, says that it was the feeling of being burnt out that made her experiment with her craft skills. “I was in Singapore then and I used to make artistic polymer clay pen drives. My motto was to make works of art that had utility value. I was making them even when I was working, and people would show interest and that is when I realized the potential of this artform in the international markets.”
She continued running her business in the last decade even when she had to shift bases across Singapore, South Africa, Australia and India. “Every time I moved, sourcing materials would be a major challenge but thanks to my corporate experience, it never became a hindrance,” she adds.
Most of Shirali’s clientele is in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. She caters to Indian clients through Instagram, Facebook and her website. As miniature sculpting is not taught in Indian academia, Shirali had to find young college graduates, who want to learn the craft, from social media.
A polymer art jewellery label is in the pipeline for Shirali, who is also planning to launch online tutorials through her website and Etsy.
Ruchi Pugalia’s love for designing clothes was rekindled when she designed costumes for a feature film. An alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ruchi was working in films as an assistant director and as an associate producer for a live action show on Pogo, the popular kids TV channel when she was bit by the creativity bug. “I wanted to do something on my own rather than working in a large set up,” she recalls.
Ruchi’s brand ComfyMommy sells stylish and comfortable clothing for expectant mothers on e-marketplace Etsy. She started with kaftans and lounge wear, and set up shop on Etsy in 2012.
“I was in Mumbai then. All this was being done in my living room and there were just two of us. I found my niche in maternity clothing after six months when a client asked me to design maternity wear. That’s when I realized there is a huge gap in the market for comfortable, utilitarian and stylish maternity wear,” says Ruchi, 36.
Once Ruchi’s line of maternity clothing took off, she wanted expand her business. Her husband, who worked as an animator and is also an NID graduate, joined her and the couple shifted base to Lucknow. Her father-in-law followed suit when he retired and is now responsible for managing the company’s finances. “My husband shoulders the managerial responsibilities. Also, my in-laws have been tremendously supportive with the business and they also help me in my mommy duties,” she adds. She has a five-year-old son.
Currently, she has ten employees and has customer bases in the US, UK, Australia and Canada. Ruchi plans to add more designs and widen her clientele in the domestic market through Instagram.
An unfortunate accident, a stint of being bedridden in a foreign country, and a job loss later, Kriti Jindal transformed her childhood passion for textiles into a viable business. Kriti runs an Etsy shop – KaribyKriti – where she sells artisanal block-printed home décor wares and accessories.
Kriti is a graduate in textile management from the Pearl Academy of Fashion in Delhi. In 2012, she moved to Australia for work. But she fractured her ankle in an accident and was bedridden for 8-10 weeks, and had to quit her job because of mobility issues. “My husband encouraged me to start blogging about textiles - which was my passion. I interviewed a lot of people who made handmade products using textiles and thus got the idea for my business,” she says.
She moved to Hyderabad in 2013 and her first sale on Etsy comprised two baby quilts, following which she started getting orders for larger sizes. Kriti, now mother to a six-year-old boy, designs the prints for her block-printed fabrics herself. She has customers in the US, Australia, and Europe through Etsy, and in Indian through Instagram.
Kriti’s venture is also helping underprivileged women in Hyderabad earn livelihoods. “I get all the stitching and embroidery work done by the women who have been enrolled in Kriti Trust, an NGO that trains women in the urban villages of Hyderabad to sew and embroider for three months. (The NGO has set up centers in the village itself so that the women can work without having to leave their homes.) I want to open my own center so that these women can exclusively work for me.”
(Edited by Athira Nair)